Director: Kevin Tenney
Burke Byrnes/Lt. Dewhurst
Incredibly puffy haired hottie Linda (Kitaen) plays a Ouija board solo and eventually begins to show signs of possible baddie spirit possession. Will her better alcoholic half (Allen) and her ex-boytoy (Nichols) save her from pulling a "Linda Blair"? Let's ask this board and find out.
This little chiller creeped my arrow out and then some when I was a wee rambunctious brat and even though watching it today didn’t have the same smack-in-the-face impact on me, I can still safely say that this baby holds up like a viagra-induced boner. "Witchboard" uses the seldom-used angle of the Ouija board in genre films as its springboard and eventually takes us on a trip down intrigue and possession lane. Since the flick was shot on a relatively small budget, writer/director Kevin Tenney had to flex his muscles where it mattered: on the script and the visuals. The hard work is apparent and it pays off.
Screenplay-wise, this one is definitely more layered than the average cheapo horror fare. The characters are surprisingly fleshed out, the love triangle is handled in a realistic way, the always-engaging theme of friendship is brought up and I really appreciated the fact that these were good but flawed folks who we were dealing with. The quality writing made the off-the-wall scenario that much more gripping. The other aspect that elevated "Witchboard" above the rest was the stylish directing. Tenney used his camera like a style-whore evoking the panache of Carpenter, Raimi and dare I say...Hitchcock (I said it, sue me). In consequence, the movie has a classy feel, looks way polished for its budget and showcases strong tension-filled moments. Toss in there one kool, atmospheric dream sequence, a simple yet captivating mystery, an eerie score that had me by the peanuts, a couple of nifty plot twists and boo scares galore (maybe too many) and you get one fulfilling sit down at the horror graveyard.
Now the flick does have a few ingredients that play against it. I wasn’t too fond of the annoying cop (Byrnes) on Jim’s ass subplot, it wasn’t really necessary and in the end, all it brought to the film was a huge plot hole (how did “?” survive and get exonerated of the crimes?). Then there’s that highly IRRITATING freak-like psychic Zarabeth (Wilhoite) who popped in long enough to leave a sour taste in our drinks. She can take that TTFN (you’ll see…) and shove it deep…deep…deep up her bazookee! I’m all for comic relief in the appropriate genre effort but A) this film didn’t need any damn comedy and B) this “kooky” chickadee was far from funny. Pathetic on the other hand…
But on a whole, I can’t help but highly respect "Witchboard". Even though it didn’t have lots of coin to spread around, it's obvious to me that everyone involved charged in with the intention of delivering a solid horror picture. That positive energy shines throughout the movie. If you’re craving an intelligent, subtle and character-driven horror lollipop, lick this treat. Sure, it has its rough edges but overall much like Tracy Lords, it goes down real well. There’s also another compelling selling point that you should take into account: how many times in your life will you get to see the Whitesnake “Here I Go again” chick get possessed, wear men’s clothing and wield an axe like a dame on a bad PMS trip? Not too many. ARROW: Ouija, will this movie please fear fiends? Ouija: YES!
The gore isn’t heavy but we still get some dude crushed to death, an impaling, a hatchet in the head, a dry beheading and the occasional splat of blood.
Tawny Kitaen's (Linda) acting is average but she sure looks yummy. A stronger lead would’ve elevated the stakes of the film though. Todd Allen (Jim) and Stephen Nichols (Brandon) have pleasant chemistry together and handle their parts very well. Burke Byrnes (Lt. Dewhurst) does great as the pestering cop and yes, he rubbed me the wrong way. Kathleen Wilhoite (Zarabeth) damaged my eyes and my ears with her over-the-top performance. Bad casting choice there. Do all psychics have to be so extravagant? Not in my book.
T & A
Tawny Kitaen goes in fully nude mode for the obligatory shower scene and the ladies will want to know that both Todd Allen and Stephen Nichols show off their chests.
Tenney goes "Sam Raimi" on our ass and displays really kool spirit POV shots, slick camera angles, well used slow motion and able steady cam action. He also has a strong handle on his suspense. Very nice!
We get a very atmospheric synthesizer score courtesy of Dennis Michael Tenney and one "so tacky, it's hip" 80s rock song. NOTE: I loved the children’s moaning that was slapped in there on occasion…spooky stuff!
If you’re in the mood for a film that’s axed more on tension than gore, has its fair share of ambitious shots, that oozes of creepy ambiance and sports a mostly well-written screenplay, then "Witchboard" might be the fix you’re looking for. It’s restrained, it's subtle, it's old school. They don’t make them like this anymore and they should. Now it’s off to Toys R Us I go! I got to get myself a Ouija…there’s a certain James Dean I’d like to chitchat with.
The flick’s budget was one million clams and it made ten million theatrically.
The movie has two sequels: "Witchboard 2" with Amy Dolenz (a decent sequel written and directed buy Tenney) and "Witchboard 3" (a piece of crap co-written by Tenney).